This is the story of a case that ran out of time and money. It reminds me of the poem by Benjamin Franklin:
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”
A harsh result, but this really happened. The name of this Virginia case is Landini v. Bil-Jax
It was a case about a product that caused an injury. This products-liability case was filed by a school employee. A Roanoke lawyer drafted the lawsuit to file in Powhatan County, where the injury occurred. The lawsuit filed was seeking an amount of $2.5 million dollars.
The lawyer, or someone on her staff, called a local circuit court in the Roanoke area to confirm how much the filing fees were for a $2.5 million lawsuit. The answer was $344. On September 2, The lawyer overnighted her $344 check with the drafted lawsuit, to the Powhatan Circuit Court.
The next day, the clerk received the mailing with the check and lawsuit which was September 3. The lawsuit had to be filed by September 9 because of the two year statute of limitations time period.
The clerk called the lawyer on September 9. and told her that the filing fee check was short. As it turned out, Powhatan County charges more than the Roanoke Court. The clerk advised that “Your filing fees are $2 short; it’s $346.” The filing fee was more because during the previous year, Powhatan County had approved an increase in their library fee that was tacked on to the court filing fee, from $2 to $4.
As soon as the clerk notified the lawyer, she agreed to send another check for the needed amount. She mailed that that check out the next day. When the check arrived, the clerk stamped the lawsuit as filed. The date of the stamp was September 13, now four days after the statute of limitations deadline.
At that point, the clerk had never told the lawyer that the lawsuit had not been docketed as filed. The clerk had only told her that she needed to send an extra $2. There was no discussion of the clerk holding off on filing the suit until the small amount was received, so the lawyer didn’t know that her statute of limitations was running.
In the state of Virginia, you can wait up to a year to serve your lawsuit on the defendant. In this case, the Roanoke lawyer never served the suit, so she nonsuited it and then refilled it and then served it on the defendant.
That’s when it happened! The lawyer received the defendants’ pleading called a special plea of the statute of limitations. I don’t even want to imagine the lawyer’s feelings as she read her mail that day and saw that her original lawsuit had been date stamped originally as being filed four days too late, after the statute of limitations September 9 original deadline.
The trial court ruled that the plaintiff had indeed filed the original suit two years and four days after the injury; meaning that it was filed after the statute of limitations had run. The Roanoke lawyer appealed. The Virginia Supreme Court agreed with the lower court and determined that the filing fee, including the library fee, had to be paid before the lawsuit could be considered filed. A dismissal over 2 dollars.
Maybe that is why the practice of law has been described as five baskets, five snakes… and four lids.
And for our pic o’ day, it’s all about the evidence. And if you are in the snow right now… be real careful out there!